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n Hot Pursuit 
of Language 
in Prehistory 

Essays in the four fields 
of anthropology 

Edited by John D. Bengtson 

John Benjamins Publishing Company 

In Hot Pursuit of Language in Prehistory 

In Hot Pursuit 

of Language in Prehistory 

Essays in the four fields of anthropology 
In honor of Harold Crane Fleming 

Edited by 

John D. Bengtson 

John Benjamins Publishing Company 

Amsterdam / Philadelphia 

_\™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of 
' American National Standard for Information Sciences - Permanence of 
Paper for Printed Library Materials, ansi z39.48-1984. 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

In hot pursuit of language in prehistory : essays in the four fields of anthropology in 
honor of Harold Crane Fleming / edited by John D. Bengtson. 
p. cm. 
Includes bibliographical references and index. 

1. Comparative linguistics. 2. Language and languages-Origin. 3. Human beings- 
Origin. I. Bengtson, John D. 
P143.I36 2008 
3o6.44--dc22 2008030839 

isbn 978 90 272 3252 6 (Hb; alk. paper) 

© 2008 - John Benjamins B.V. 

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, by print, photoprint, microfilm, or any 

other means, without written permission from the publisher. 

John Benjamins Publishing Co. • P.O. Box 36224 • 1020 me Amsterdam • The Netherlands 
John Benjamins North America • P.O. Box 27519 • Philadelphia pa 19118-0519 • usa 

Table of contents 

Foreword ix 

Acknowledgments xm 

Photographs xv 

Works of Harold Crane Fleming xix 

Part I. African peoples 

Geography, selected Afro-Asiatic families, and Y chromosome 
lineage variation: An exploration in linguistics 

and phylogeography 3 

Shomarka Omar Keita 

A dental anthropological hypothesis relating to the ethnogenesis, 
origin, and antiquity of the Afro-Asiatic language family: 

Peopling of the Eurafrican-South Asian triangle IV 17 

Christy G. Turner II 

African weeks 25 

Daniel F. McCall 

Part II. African languages - Synchronic studies 

Gender distinction and affirmative copula clauses in Zargulla 39 

Azeb Amha 

Riddling in Gidole 49 

Paul Black 

Part III. African languages - Classification and prehistory 

A lexicostatistical comparison of Omotic languages 57 

Vaclav Blazek 

The primary branches of Cushitic: 

Seriating the diagnostic sound change rules 149 

Christopher Ehret 

vi In Hot Pursuit of Human Prehistory 

Erosion in Chadic 161 

Herrmann Jungraithmayr 

On Kunama ukunkula "elbow" and its proposed cognates 

in Nilo-Saharan languages 169 

Philippe Burgisser 

The problem of pan- African roots 189 

Roger M. Blench 

Part IV. Languages of Eurasia, Oceania, and the Americas 

Some thoughts on the Proto-Indo-European cardinal numbers 213 

Allan R. Bomhard 

Some Old World experience of linguistic dating 223 

J.A. Janhunen 

The languages of Northern Eurasia: Inference to the best explanation 241 

John D. Bengtson 

Slaying the Dragon across Eurasia 263 

Michael Witzel 

Trombetti: The forefather of Indo-Pacific 287 

Jonathan Morris 

Otomanguean loan words in Proto-Uto-Aztecan maize vocabulary? 309 

Jane H. Hill 

Historical interpretations of geographical distributions 

of Amerind subfamilies 321 

Larry Lepionka 

Part V. Human origins, Language origins, 
and Proto-Sapiens language 

Current topics in human evolutionary genetics 343 

Stephen L. Zegura 

A wild 50,000-year ride 359 

Philip Lieberman 

Can Paleolithic stone artifacts serve as evidence 

for prehistoric language? 373 

Ofer Bar-Yosef 

Table of contents vn 

The origin of language: Symbiosism and symbiomism 381 

George van Driem 

Some speculations on the evolution of language, 

and the language of evolution 401 

Paul Whitehouse 

The age of Mama and Papa 417 

Alain Matthey de I'Etang & Pierre J. Bancel 

The millennial persistence of Indo-European and 

Eurasiatic pronouns and the origin of nominals 439 

Pierre J. Bancel & Alain Matthey de I'Etang 

General index 465 

Index of languages and language families 471 

Index of scholars discussed 475 

Slaying the dragon across Eurasia 

Michael Witzel 

Harvard University and President, 

Association for the Study of Language in Prehistory 

Myths relating the slaying of a large reptile by a hero or trickster deity appear 
in many mythologies across Eurasia and beyond, in Polynesia and the Americas. 
They are an important part of the creation myths. The killing of the monster 
liberates the dammed up waters as to make the world fertile and inhabitable for 
humans. Related is the connection between summer solstice and the marriage 
of the dragon slayer (or a hunter) with a local virgin, ultimately, the marriage 
of sun and moon, as found from Old India via China and Japan to the Kekchi 
Mayas. Such myths are traced back to a reconstructed Late Paleolithic mythology, 
called "Laurasian" that incorporates myths from the beginning of the world to its 
final destruction. Historical Comparative Mythology is to be added as another 
approach in our quest to understand early humans. 

Keywords: dragon slaying; Eurasia; Americas; Summer solstice; marriage 
of Sun and Moon 

1. Introduction 

Myths 1 all over the globe exhibit certain similarities that have attracted the attention 
of modern scholars for some hundred and fifty years. In any attempt to explain the 
early history of anatomically modern humans, comparative mythology would be ex- 
pected to add important aspects, however, research along these lines has hardly been 

1. A brief definition of myth may run like this: Myths are highly regarded, more or less stan- 
dardized, non-secular tales dealing with questions of the origin, nature and ultimate destiny of 
the world and its human beings, including those of their societies, rituals and festivals. There 
are many other formulations; however, a very comprehensive and useful definition has recently 
been given by W. van Binsbergen, Paper at the Conference "Myth and the disciplines" at Leiden, 
Dec. 12, 2003, see:, http:// 

264 Michael Witzel 

carried out so far. This is not surprising as records of myths go back only some 5,000 
years and most have been recorded in much more recent times. 

Whenever myths have indeed been compared on a larger scale it was based on 
preconceived notions of interpretation. 2 To be sure, myths have been studied for a 
long time, 3 ever since the times of the ancient Greeks, Indians and Chinese, and in 
the modern Occident for at least some 330 years. 4 However, such studies, comparative 
or otherwise, have not yet yielded a cogent system of relationships. 5 There are several 
ways to explain such wide-ranging similarities. 6 

However, earlier types of explanations of myth proposed so far 7 fail to address 
the central, but generally unnoticed problem: the comparability of whole systems of 
myths; in other words, to use a linguistic simile, the comparison of whole grammars, 
not just of a particular word, form, declension/conjugation or syntactical feature. 
When actually comparing whole systems of myths it can be noticed - though not 
explored so far - that local mythologies, such as the Vedic Indian, Japanese, Icelandic 
or Maya ones, not only have similar contents (individual myths with similar motifs), 
but that these items are also arranged in similar fashion. In exploring this feature I do 
not compare randomly from mythologies all over the world, but only from those that 

2. Such as the two most current ones of diffusion (Frobenius, Baumann, etc.), common under- 
lying features of the human mind (Jung, Campbell; also, though more limited in geographical 
space, Levi-Strauss's binary systems), etc. Diffusion entails that the similarities in widely dis- 
tributed myths are due to a gradual dispersion of such motifs from a known or reconstructed 
center. The other current theory, of common universal traits of the human psyche, is based on 
C.G. Jung's psychology (followed by J. Campbell and others): certain motifs, or their composite 
parts (archetypes) are universal and can appear in dreams, visions and myths, and can re-emerge 
at any time. 

3. See Doty 1986, 2000. 

4. See Feldman & Richardson 1972; and cf. Matsumura 2005. 

5. See however, my recent proposal of the Laurasian and Gondwana mythological regions in 
some previous papers: Zinbun (1990), MT VI, 2001, 45-62; EJVS 12 (2005); Out of Africa: The 
journey of the oldest tales of humankind. Conference Presentation at the Conference on Gen- 
eralized Sciences: Peaceful World and Enriching Lives, Tokyo March 17, 2005; ESCA 7: 2006: 
284-318; a longer version of the present paper, including a detailed analysis of aspects of the 
summer solstice, was given at Nanhua University, Taiwan, Oct. 2005. The proposals will be de- 
tailed my forthcoming book, Origins (working title). 

6. There is a long list of interpretations of myth, from the Classical and Renaissance stance 
( Vico) regarding them as allegorical or euhemeristic, from Max Miiller's disguised nature myths 
to astral mythology, from ritual to Malinowski's social charter, from Freud's theories of repres- 
sion to Jung's universal psychic archetypes, from myth as disguised history to Levi-Strauss' 
binary, structural analysis supposedly reflecting the structure of the human mind. 

7. See W. Doty 1986, 2000. 

Slaying the dragon across Eurasia 265 

follow a certain narrational scheme. Indeed, a fairly large number of them exhibit a 
common story line, that I call Laurasian, after the geological name of the early northern 

This narrative scheme encompasses, in succession, the ultimate origins of the uni- 
verse and the world, the subsequent generations of the gods, an age of semi-divine 
heroes, the emergence of humans, and the origins of (noble) lineages. It frequently 
includes a violent end to our present world, sometimes with the hope for a new world 
emerging out of the ashes. Ultimately, the universe is seen as a living body, in analogy 
to the human one: it is born from primordial incest, grows, develops, comes of age, and 
has to undergo final decay and death. 

The new approach, of historical comparative mythology, has been proposed earlier 
{Mother Tongue VI, 2001: 45-62). 8 It has recently, though unwittingly, been called "es- 
sentially romantic" 9 as it looks for, and points toward, a common source, that certainly 
"may no longer exist," as William Jones put it in 1786 with regard to the Proto-Indo- 
European parent language. Indeed, as pointed out in MT VI, this new approach, and 
the steps taken, are similar to the well tested methods of historical (and long range) 

In the present paper, a certain type of myth, the slaying of the dragon, will be 
explored in some detail. It belongs to the important series of creation myths that has 
been discussed elsewhere. 10 

8. See further Witzel 2005; Witzel, M. Out of Africa: The journey of the oldest tales of human- 
kind, given at the Conference on Generalized Sciences: Peaceful World and enriching Lives, Tokyo 
March 17, 2005; forthcoming book, Origins (working title). 

9. As W. Doniger chose to call it in The New York Times Book Review (July 14, 1991: 3, 26): 
"Given cultural convergences the theoretically possible explanations are: (a) diffusion, (b) 
derivation from a common source (c) derivation from structural characteristics of the human 
mind. [Ginsburg] rejects the idea of a common source because he rejects a model which is 
Romantic even before it is positivist: that of the genealogical tree." However it is precisely this 
model that has been successfully used by comparative historical linguistics, palaeontology, 
and - visible in popular accounts since the Fall of 1990 - in the very influential genetic studies 
(cf. Witzel 2001). Incidentally, in her review, Doniger had many of the facts in hand that 
would have allowed her to observe the opposition between Eurasian (Laurasian) and sub- 
Saharan African (Gondwana) mythology, but due to the engrained "path dependencies" of 
the psychological interpretation, from Freud onwards, she failed to draw the obvious conclu- 
sions discussed in this and earlier papers. Recent advances in human genetics lend additional 
support to this scenario; such results (especially the early, Paleolithic emigration from Africa 
along the coasts of the Indian/W. Pacific Oceans) will be dealt with separately (Witzel, Origins: 
working title) . 

10. Witzel 2006. 

266 Michael Witzel 

2. The dragon 

The dragon in the form of a giant lizard-like creature or as a giant snake enjoys 
a worldwide spread (S. Thompson, 1932-6: Motif Bll). 11 This spread has usually 
been explained by diffusion (Smith 1919) or by archetypes (C.G. Jung), see above. 
However, Blust (2000: 520) provides a survey of its typical traits. He believes that 
dragon ideas "arose through processes of reasoning which do not differ essentially 
from those underlying modern scientific explanations." He traces this back, ulti- 
mately, to the observation of rainbows. 12 Though this natural phenomenon has been 
interpreted as a giant snake by the peoples of many areas (Sub-Saharan Africa, South 
America, Australia), it will be seen that the reptilian 13 form that (mostly) possesses 
legs and that is found in large areas of Eurasia, is of a different nature. In the per- 
spective of Laurasian mythology, its appearance in "mythological history" is tied to 
a particular stage in creation myths. 

After the initial creation of the universe, of the earth, and of light and sunshine, 14 
the new earth is not yet ready for living beings. It has to receive moisture, whether 
(sweet) water or the blood of a primordial creature. In many traditions, it is the latter. 
Only after the earth has been fertilized by the Dragons blood it can support life. 

n. In some detail: B 11: data from Europe, India, Korea; B 11.1. Origin of the dragon (e.g., from 
worm); B11.2. Form of dragon; Bll.2.1. Dragon as compound animal (Europe, China, Egypt).; 
Bll.2.1.1. Dragon as modified serpent (Amerindian, Japanese, Indian) or fish (China); Bll. 2. 3. 
Many-headed dragon (Europe, Iran, Indian; Japan, S. America: Araucanian; Africa: Fulah; 
Bll.2.11. Fire-breathing dragon; Bll. 6. Deeds of dragons; Bll. 7. Dragon as rain-spirit (China) 
or bringing water (India, Japan); B16.6. Giant devastating serpent, cf. Rill. 1.3. Rescue of prin- 
cess (maiden) from dragon; Bl 1.1 1. Fight with dragon (Europe, Egypt, Iran, China, Japan; Africa 
(Fang); (cf. A531. Culture hero overcomes monsters); cf. also B15. 1.2.2.- B11.2.3.1/B15. 
Three-to Nine-headed dragons. Bll. 7. Dragon as rain-spirit; Allll. Impounded water: Water 
is kept by monster so that mankind cannot use it. A hero defeats the monster and releases the 
water (worldwide). Also: A876. Midgard Serpent; B91.1. Naga. Serpent demon; B91.2. Plumed 
serpent; A139.3. Dragon god; A132.1. Snake-god. - It has to be noted that S. Thompson's data 
are confined, by and large, to Eurasia and the Americas. 

12. Barber & Barber (2004: 232-244), too, explain the dragon, somewhat simplistically, 
as derived from certain features observed in nature, however, mostly those of northwestern 
Europe. They do not include a worldwide survey such as done by Blust 2000. 

13. It has scales in all areas surveyed by Blust 2000: 520 (Europe, Near East and Egypt, India, 
Far East, Mesoamerica, North America); however, apparently not in S. America (but note a 
many-headed dragon with the Araucanians, Thompson 1932-6: Motif B11.2. 3.1); see further 
below, at the end. 

14. See M. Witzel 2005: Veda and Iwato. 

Slaying the dragon across Eurasia 267 

Frequently, (Father) Heaven and (Mother) Earth are the primordial deities. Their 
children are, e.g., the Greek Titans, Indian Asuras or Jpn. Kami ("mundane 
gods"). The latter 's younger and victorious cousins are the Olympian gods, the Indian 
Devas or the Jpn. Kami ("heavenly gods"); their older cousins are regarded as 
enemies or monsters who have to be slain or at least be subdued temporarily. 

Most prominent among such fights is the slaying of the primordial Dragon by the 
Great Hero, a descendant of Father Heaven. In the Vedic texts of early India, it is the 
great god Indra who kills the three-headed reptile, just like his Iranian counterpart 
Thraetaona (Avesta texts) kills the three-headed dragon, or as their distant equiva- 
lent in old Japan, the god Wo (Kojiki, Nihon Shoki), kills the "eight-forked" 
dragon, Orochi. 15 

The same is echoed at the other end of Eurasia. In England, it is Beowulf, in 
the Icelandic Edda it is Sigurd (the Siegfried of Wagner's opera and of the medieval 
Nibelungen Epic) who perform the heroic feat of slaying the "worm." 16 We may also 
compare Herakles' killing of the Hydra of Lerna. Herakles is the mortal son of the king 
of the Olympian gods, Zeus. In his famous 12 deeds, Herakles not only kills various 
monsters but he also finds the cows, or dawns (§ 5): in other words, he acts just like 
the Vedic Indra. 

Closely related to the latter is the Slavic myth of the hero's fight with Veles. His 
name reflects the Avestan Vara, Vedic Vala, both of which are terms for an under- 
ground fortress or cave that contains the "cows" (dawns), the sun and moon as well as 
the goods desired by humans. (In the Nuristani myths of NE Afghanistan, it is called 
"the house near heaven"). The dichotomy between Slav. Veles (Lithuanian Velinas, 
Velnias; Latvian Vels) and Perun (Lith. Perkunas, Puhvel 1987: 226 sq) is still seen in 
place names, even in such relatively late Slavicized areas as Dalmatia (Katicic 2001). 

The Indo-European myths have recently been studied by C. Watkins (1995) 17 and 
to some extent by Barber and Barber (2004: 232-244). 18 

15. In Japan (and to some extent in Polynesia), 8 is the preferred number in enumerative 
systems, while it is 9 in northern (shamanic) Eurasia and China, and 7 in the Greater Near East: 
interesting regional features that need further exploration. 

16. As the dragon is called in Germanic languages. We may also compare Thor's and Tyrs 
killing of the giants. 

17. Many Indo-European comparisons (especially Slavic ones) have been made by Ivanov and 
Toporov 1970, 1974. 

18. They find simple explanations, based on the experience of nature. However, they mostly 
deal with northwestern Indo-European and some Near Eastern dragons but they neglect Indian, 
Chinese, Japanese and older pre-Occidental ones, such as the well-known chain of transmis- 
sion of mythemes from Persia > Rome/Byzantium > Germanic tribes (Bachtold-Staubh 1987: 
364-367. s.v. Drache). The only exception is their study of some astronomical features in their 

268 Michael Witzel 

Further afield, in ancient Egyptian myth, the victorious sun (Re) each night slays 
the dragon of the deep (Apophis, "with a knife on his head"), when it passes under- 
ground back towards the east as to rise again. Even Apophis bones are destroyed; 
there is total destruction, and not even his shadow is left. In ritual, too, Apophis is 
burnt daily in effigie at dawn and dusk. In Mesopotamia, Marduks killing of Tiamat 
is a related theme. The earliest Chinese mythology has the "black dragon" killed; the 
dragon was not yet regarded then as a beneficial being, as later on. 

There are even echoes as distant as in Hawai'i (mob monsters), while the myth 
as such seems absent, prima facie, in the Americas. On closer look, however, there 
are a number of myths that speak of killing various types of ogres, even outside the 
Na-Dene speaking Athapaskan tribes (Bierhorst 1986: 68) that are more closely 
related to Siberia. Examples are found among the southern California Chumash (Bier- 
horst 1986: 94), and as far as the most distant South American tribes, such as those 
of the Gran Chaco (Wilbert & Simoneau 1987: 703, 729) 19 and of Tierra del Fuego 
(Campbell 1988: 1 2: 256; Wilbert 1975: 39-43; Gusinde 1931: 593-595, 597-599). 20 

3. Japan, India, and Iran 

To facilitate a closer comparison, individual mythologies are investigated, to begin 
with, the oldest Japanese texts, Kojiki and Nihon Shoki (712/720 CE). According 
to them, the dragon orochi lives on the river Hi in Izumo, 21 the land as- 
signed to Wo, originally the lord of the Ocean. He is the son of the primor- 
dial parent deities Izanagi and Izanami. Nihon Shoki 1.51 (Aston 1972) says that 
the dragon in the land of Izumo, on the Hi river, "had an eight-forked head and 

chapter 16. (Barber & Barber 2004: 177-217): The Dragon (Draco), the constellation between 
the two Bears (Ursa) was killed or driven off, and center of the world and of the night time sky 
(north pole) shifted (close) to our present Pole Star, Polaris. Cf. Witzel 1984. 

19. Monsters: Motif A53: Wilbert & Simoneau no. s 97, 169, 170, killing the vulture, which has 
many other correspondences, e.g., to Motif B11.7.1+, B16.5.1.2, etc. (Wilbert & Simoneau 1987: 
703); cf. also s.v. snake (Wilbert & Simoneau 1987: 729, B242+); see also Sullivan (1988: 75): 
primordial monsters killed (Desana), fish monster (Warao) p. 122, etc.; see index s.v. monsters. 

20. Note also the seven-headed dragon with the Araucanians, Thompson 1932-6: Motif Bll.2.3. 

21. Or at Nihon Shoki 1.54: on the upper river Ye in Aki (Hiroshima Prefecture). Note that 
at Nihon Shoki 1.56, Wo with his son Iso-takeru ("fifty courageous") went down to 
Shiragi (Korea), at Soshimori (mori = Kor. moi "mountain", Aston); he says "I will not dwell in 
this land", takes a clay (!) boat and crosses over to Mt. Take at the upper Hi river. 
Then Wo dwelt on Mt. Kuma-nari (Mt. Kumano in Izumo? near Suga) and finally went 
to Hades. (Kumanari: I p. 59, 232; Kokuri = old name Koma, 367). 

Slaying the dragon across Eurasia 269 

eight-forked tail; his eyes were red like the winter cherry; and on his back firs and 
cypresses were growing. 22 As it crawled it extended over a space of eight hills and 
eight valleys," 23 with the typical Jpn. stress of the number eight. Wo gets the 
dragon drunk with Sake, and cuts off one head after another. 24 Tearing him apart, 
he finds a sword ( tsurugi) in the dragon's tail which is to become im- 
portant later on in Japanese myth (and as the sword of the Emperor). The dragon's 
spilled blood makes earth fertile. Wo 25 marries the virgin Kushi-nada Hime 
whom he had rescued from the dragon, and finally enters the Netherworld (toko-yo. 
no kuni) via Cape Kumano (Nihon Shoki 1.60) 

The old Iranian and Vedic Indian myth of slaying the dragon is of Indo-European 
origin, but it has undergone some local influences, especially in the shared Central 
Asian homelands of both peoples (Witzel 2000, 2003, 2004). The dragon is the pri- 
mordial guardian of productive forces or of riches, and the divine Vedic hero Indra 
or the Iranian heroes Thraetaona (Avesta: Yast 5. 33-35, Yasna 9. 7-8) or Karasaspa 
(Yt 19. 38-40, Y 9. 11) are his slayers. 

It is one of Indra's main deeds to overcome Vrtra, which originally meant just 
"resistance" (Benveniste-Renou 1934). He was imagined in Ilr. tradition as a dragon or 
as a giant snake, lying on the primordial mountain or in the ocean. Its dragon form is 
found in Ilr. as *afhi, Old Iranian azi, Vedic ahi "dragon", a three-headed (tri-sirsan/ 
dri-kamaraSa) reptile monster. In Vedic he also appears as the three-headed Visvarupa, 
son of a primordial deity, Tvastr, 26 who is the adoptive father of Indra. When Indra 
kills the dragon Visvarupa, he thus kills his "cousin" (or due to "adoption" by Tvastr, 
even his step -brother), which clearly reflects the common Ilr dichotomy between the 
Deva and Asura deities discussed above. However, there is archaeological evidence for 
the dragon from Southern Central Asia, an area where the speakers of pre- Vedic and 
and pre-Avestan have passed through (Witzel 2003, 2004). 

There are many representations (Francfort 1994) of the dragon in the Bactria- 
Margiana Archeological Complex (BMAC), an early South-Central Asian Bronze age 
culture (2400-1600 BCE), an area that the ancestors of the speakers of Old Iranian 
and Vedic have passed through or even stayed for a while, and where they were deeply 

22. Similar description of the 3-headed monster is found in the Avesta. 

23. Aston 1972: 55sqq. 

24. Cf. myth of Perseus and his killing of the Gorgon Medusa, see Graves 1955, vol. I: 238. 

25. His childis Kami, Oho-na-muji, Oho-na-mochi, etc (cf. Kojiki 1.10, Philippi 
1968: 67), whose beneficial acts include that he "established this sub-celestial world, and created 
medicines . . . and controlled calamities of birds, beasts creeping things . . ." (Nihon Shoki 1. 59). 

26. Cf. Avesta, Yast 19.18 Sworastar as "creator" of Ahura Mazdas creation, cf. Yasna 29.6, 
Oberlies 2000: 370. 

270 Michael Witzel 

influenced in mythology and ritual (Lubotsky 2001; Witzel 2003, 2004, 2006) (Interac- 
tionbetween the BMAC and steppe peoples is now clearly visible: the BMAC has certain 
steppe influences, in pottery etc., and the opposite direction of influence is sometimes 
assumed for the Arkhaim/Sintashta culture 27 in the Urals area.) In the BMAC, the 
dragon mainly appears as an ugly, scaled, human-headed man standing with a water 
vessel in one arm (Francfort 1994). In most Ilr. descriptions, however, the dragon is 
seen not in human form but as a giant reptile, killed by the heroes Thraetaona (Yast 5. 
33-35, Yasna 9. 7-8) or Ksrssaspa (Yast 19. 38-40, Yasna 9. 11), who was resting and 
cooking on the beast, (cf. Oberlies 2000: 371 sq.). Slight differences of Ilr. myth in the 
Avesta and the Veda must seen within the context of the Avesta that represents the 
local successor of the BMAC culture. We would then have, in Ilr., these epithets of an 
old Dragon Slayer god (Witzel 2004): 


*indra vrtraghan- 

"strong slayer of resistance" 

Vedic /Old IA 



(Indra), VsrsSragna 



cooking a meal in metal pot 

at noon, Yt 19.38-41) 

(Atar, son of Ahura Mazda 

Yt 19.47) 

(TistriiaYt 8.13-23: 

in human, cattle, horse form) 

*aj hi (*yaz) vrtra 
"dragon, the resistance" 

Vrtra, ahi, (*tri-sirsan Visvarupa RV 
10.8.9; 2.11.19, = 

tri-slrsan trikakud krimi AV 5.23.9) 
Susna, Cumuri (local) 

azi, (Y 9.8 azim dahakam 
dri-kamaraSam xsasasim) 
yellowish monster, exuding 
yellow poison; 
Gandar3(3a with yellow heel 

azi Dahaka, 9ri-kam3ra6a 

Daeuua Apaosa, ka-msrsSa, 
black, bald horse 

27. For the archeological background of contact between the steppe cultures (such as 
that of the Indo-Iranians) and the BMAC see Hiebert, Shishlina & Hiebert 1998 and Witzel 
2003: 48sqq. 

28. Note that his name "having emaciated horses" (Ved. Krsasva, cf. krsagu, krsapasu) reflects 
the situation before the release of the waters; the name would fit Tistriia better. - Note also the 
stress in Zoroastrian tradition on the miserable situation (cf. Y 51.12) of Zarathustra ("having 
old camels"?) before he succeeded in gaining some followers. 

Slaying the dragon across Eurasia 271 

However, the reptile also appears, with local Indian and Hindukush adaptations, 
as a giant cobra (vyamsa, Schmidt 1963) and it is in this area that an overlap with the 
snake form (Ndga) emerges. Even then, these northwestern Nagas (found in Dardic 
and Nuristani speaking populations) are, to this day, 29 guardians of water in the form 
of ice and snow, unlike their tropical Indian forms that are linked to the monsoon rains 
(Witzel 2004, and forthc.) 

In the BMAC, however, the dragon appears as scaled anthropomorphic demon of 
draught who fights the eagle faced hero (Francfort 1994). 30 The Eurasian motifs have 
evolved into a typical, local variety which has representations in its art of the motifs 
of the primordial dragon guarding and inhibiting the waters, the dragon-slaying hero, 
and a divine eagle. 




AnahitaV Sarasvati/Rasa 

Aditi, Dezalik 

Oxus religion :: Indo-Iranian religons 

anthropomorphic DRAGON 
of drought; 
then releases waters 
Azi/Ahi I "*V3r3dra"/Vrtra 
Apaosa (Forssman 1968) 
3-headed (Ilr.) : Bri-kamarsSa/ 
tri-sirsan Visvarupa 

Vrtra > cobra snake in India : Vyamsa 

combined forms, anthropomorphic 
lion/snake ~ Senmurv? (Schmidt 1980) 

His children: 


eagle faced 31 

(Circaetus Gallicus "snake eagle", Avest. 

saena?),Eagle flies in Winter over the 

Hindukush (upairi saena, upari syena); 

catches and eats snakes; 

Hero in human {orm-.VaraSragan/ 

Vrtrahan, Indara/Indra 

29. The main river of Nuristan, Lu Nang, is derived from *Deva Naga; Kashmirian Nagas are 
so described in the local texts Nilamata Purana (8th cent. CE?) and Rajatarahgini (1151 CE). 

30. Various Old Indo-Aryan and Old Iranian data have been added (in italics) for the sake of 

31. For a detailed example, see the reproduction in Afghanistan 2002: 204, of the eagle-faced 
hero found on a bronze axe, from Daulatab near Balkh, of c. 2000 BCE. 

272 Michael Witzel 

The old Indo-European myth of dragon slaying has been adjusted in the Avesta 
under the influence of the BMAC and its successor cultures. There is both the killing 
of the dragon but also Tistriias fight with the demon of drought, Apaosa, and the 
generation of clouds and rain, reflecting what Francfort has reconstructed for the 
BMAC belief system. Even in the Rgveda, Indra is not just the dragon slayer but 
is also closely connected with the release of the waters. The Rgvedic giant cobra, 
vyamsa, surrounds the waters and must be killed (at least temporarily) to let them 
flow. This is more of an Afghanistan and Indus myth (Falk 1997) than a monsoon 
myth (Vajracharya 1997). In Central Asia, Afghanistan and the Panjab, the penned 
up waters, encapsulated by (the *Ndgas of) snow and ice, are released by the snow 
melt, resulting in the late spring/summer floods so prominent in the Avestan and 
Rgvedic texts (Falk 1997). 

The IndoTranian myth, however, lacks the episode of freeing a young woman 
from the clutches of the dragon, a motif that is found in later Iranian texts and that has 
spread from there to Armenia (myths of Mher), 32 the Caucasus and Europe, mostly in 
the form of the medieval Christian legend of St. George. 33 The relationships between 
the dragon and the heroes can be summarized for the Germanic, IndoTranian, and 
Japanese areas as follows. 


Indra Wo 

dragon/ "worm'7 
midgard snake 

Met, etc. going berserk 

dragon ahi/azi/ 
snake/Naga is slain 
> releases water 
Soma invigorates Indra 

dragon orochi 

is slain 

> fertile land 

Sake is given to dragon, 

gets drunk, is killed 

Just as in the Vala/Iwato myth (Witzel 2005), the dragon myth shows a close re- 
lationship between old Japanese and early Central Asian myth (c. 2000 BCE), rep- 
resented by the Vedic and Old Iranian traditions. Such links are in need of further 
exploration. Attention so far has been focused on the relationship between Japanese 
and Scythian/Greek myths. 

32. See the early medieval Armenian myth/epic of David ofSassoon. 

33. For a detailed background of this tale, see Handbuch (Bachtold-Staubli 1930sqq. 1987) 
vol. 3: 647, and cf. Barber and Barber 2004. The earlier Byzantine tale of St. George killing the 
Dragon is attested in Germany and in England only since the 12th century. 

Slaying the dragon across Eurasia 273 

At the other end of Eurasia, in ancient Greece, the motif is first found in the 
Homeric hymn 3.179 ff., where the sun deity, Phoibos Apollo, kills a female dragon at 
his temple of Pytho, at Crisa, below the Parnassos mountain. 

... Apollo ... with his strong bow, the son of Zeus killed the bloated, great- 
she-dragon, . . . cruel Typhaon, ... a plague among men . . . until the lord Apollo, 
who deals death from afar, shot a strong arrow at her. Then she, rent with bitter 
pangs, lay drawing great gasps of breath and rolling about that place... and so 
she left her life, breathing forth in blood. The Phoebus Apollo boasted over her: 
"Now rot here upon the soil that feeds men!" . . . and darkness covered her eyes. 

(Evelyn- White 1914: 351) 

In this version of the myth, however, nothing is said about fertilizing the earth or pro- 
viding water for it. (As in several other Greek myths, early Near Eastern influence may 
be seen; cf. §4). We can also compare the myth of Kadmos and the dragon. 

Kadmos founded castle of Kadmeia, the later Thebes. He killed a dragon, descended 
from Ares, with stones. He broke off the teeth of the monster and sowed them into 
the earth. Immediately, fully armed men arose from it, the ancestors of the Theban 
nobility. After an eight-year penance for having killed the dragon, Kadmos was 
married to Harmonia, daughter of Ares and Aphrodite; all gods attended. (In his 
old age both emigrated to Illyria where they turned into snakes and finally were 
admitted to Elysion). (see Graves 1995: 195-6; cf. 198-200). 

4. Eurasia 

Still older is the version preserved in the Mesopotamian text Enuma Elish, (tablet IV) 
which was recited at New Year. The deities elect the god Marduk as their leader and 
tell him: 

"Go, and cut off the life of Tiamat!" 

He fashioned a bow, designated it as his weapon, 

Feathered the arrow, set in the string. 

He lifted up a mace and carried it in his right hand, 

Slung the bow and quiver at his side, 

Put lightening in front of him, 

His body was filled with an ever-blazing flame. 

He made a net to encircle Tiamat with it, marshaled the four winds 

so that no part of her could escape . . . 

And set his face towards Tiamat who raged out of control. 

In his lips he gripped a spell, 

In his hand he grasped a herb to counter poison . . . 

The lord spread his net and encircled her . . . 

He shot an arrow which pierced her belly, 

split her down the middle and slit her heart, 

274 Michael Witzel 

vanquished her and extinguished her life. 

He threw down the corpse and stood on top of her. . . 

The Lord trampled the lower part of Tiamat. 

With his unsparing mace smashed her skull, 

Severed the arteries of her blood, 

And made the North wind carry it off as good news. (Dalley 1989: 249 sqq.) 

The story continues, in the fashion of the Ymir-Purusa-Pangu myth 34 to explain how 
the world was fashioned out of her bones. 

In China, a dragon myth belongs to the oldest strata of local mythology. Niiwa 
(Niigua), 35 the second of the primordial "emperors," accomplishes the work of 
dragon slaying: in the beginning, the earth was still in chaos, some heroes must put 
it in order. 

The 4 extremes and the nine provinces were dislocated . . . The heaven did not 
cover earth completely . . . Fire transgressed everywhere without being mastered, 
water accumulated without being dispersed. Beasts devoured men, rapacious 
birds took away the old and weak. Niigua purified the fire of the stones of all 
colors, killed the black dragon, . . . accumulated the ashes of reeds to stop the 
overflowing waters . . . She cut the feet of the grand tortoise in order to fix the 4 
extremes (quarters of the sky) . . . Then men could live on earth. {Huainan zi) 36 

Here the topic of establishing the oikumene is most clearly expressed and killing the 
dragon is one of its requirements. 37 Another version has, for the first time, a peaceful, 
beneficial dragon as habitually found in later Chinese myth. (Other texts see it as an 
uprising, Liezi/Liehtzu, ch.5: poem Tianwen/T'ang-wen). 38 Then, there is the myth of 
Kung Kung, 39 

34. Dissection of the primordial giant in Iceland, India, China (Yang & An 2005: 176sqq); 
variations are found elsewhere. 

35. On her, see Yang & An 2005: 170-176; Mathieu 1989: 40 and especially p. 73 sq. In S.E. 
Chin, myth she escaped the great flood in a calabash. Niiwa is one of the three sovereigns of pri- 
mordial age (Yang & An 2005: 170sqq), usually feminine, and associated with Fuxi, her brother, 
later her husband, in medieval, Tang texts. In Han time, she has a human head and a serpent 
body surrounding that of Fuxi. She created the human race, invented the flute. 

36. Yang and An 2005: 172, Birell 1993: 69-72, 97-98, 146. For the tortoise, cf. other Eurasian 
and N. American myths; the black dragon = excess water; see Huainan zi, ch. 1 p. 3b. 

37. Other texts see it as an uprising, Liehtzu, ch. 5: T'ang-wen. 

38. E.W. Lai 1995; Yang & An 2005: 94-95. 

39. Yang & An 2005: 124-126. 

Slaying the dragon across Eurasia 275 

Gong Gong [Kung Kung, Kanghui] extended the flood for 22 years... His son 
Yu emerged in the form of a horned dragon. Gun's body also transformed into 
a dragon at that time and thenceforth lived quietly in the deeps . . . Yu led other 
gods to drive away Gong Gong, distributed the Growing Soil to remove most of 
the flood, and led the people to fashion rivers from Ying's tracks and thus channel 
the remaining floodwaters to the sea. (Huainanzi, ch. 6: Lanming) 

As to other early Chinese dragon-slayer myths, Lai (1995) focuses on the legendary 
Xia/Hsia mid-dynastic anthropogonic figure of Emperor K'ung-chia. He sees the 
Archer Yi of the East Coastal Region as belonging to the historic Shang, whose totem 
is the sun-bird. The prehistoric/legendary Hsia is in the Center and its totem is the 
snake-fish Dragon complex. 

Southern China is home to a large number of Austric peoples. In one of their 
myths, coming from Sichuan (Szechwan), the ancient land Ba (Pa). 40 

The Pa serpent is said to have a black body and a green head. It is so gigantic and 
greedy that it could swallow an elephant whole. Downstream east lay the Grotto 
Court Lake, and the Pa serpent also lurked in the waters there and did harm to 
many fishermen. 

Archer I, the hero of the I people in the east, killed this Pa serpent in a big 
battle. There is a small hill by the side of Lake Grotto Court that is called the Pa 
Mound. It is located at the southwest of Yueh-yang, Hunan province. It is where 
the bones of this gigantic Pa serpent were supposed to have been piled up after 
Archer I had killed the monster. 41 

In a late, Muslim version from Yunnan, the Drought-chaser turns into a dragon: 

During a long drought, the Drought-Chaser went to the sea and arrived at 
a crystal palace of the Sea Dragon, unlocked a thorny gate with a dragon- 
patterned board and entered. He found the Sea Dragon asleep, holding his 
rain pearl in his mouth. The Drought-Chaser grabbed the pearl, put in his own 
mouth, and ran as fast as he could retrace his footsteps. At that juncture, the Sea 
Dragon woke up. Discovering the pearl gone, he immediately gave chase. The 
Drought-Chaser swallowed the rain pearl and used the dragon-patterned board 
as a weapon. He struck the Sea Dragon's head with it and brought this monster 
down. Suddenly though, the Drought-Chaser himself turned into a dragon. He 
flew out of the crystal palace on wings, and brought down a torrential downpour 
that helped to end the drought. 

40. The sign for Pa is a picture of a snake. 

41. E.W. Lai, personal communication (Feb. 29, 2004). 

276 Michael Witzel 

The dragon here has two forms: asleep under the sea (winter) it withholds the sub- 
terranean water; awake to take to the air (spring) it brings down the rain from the 
clouds. The dragon board is the Son of Heaven's insignia ordering the spirits of 
nature about. 42 

Finally, in Polynesia where we do not expect any dragons (Hawaii has no 
snakes or Komodo dragons), we still hear of them in the form of large lizard gods 
(Haw. mob, Maori mokomoko, mokoroa, Tregear 1891: 249), who also appear in 
many other, smaller shapes. They are prominent in the creation story, which seems 
superficially influenced by Christian motives (Fornander 1969). However, the very 
similar Maori version (Tregear 1891: 57) has old verse lines mentioning them. In 
this myth, we find a "fallen chief," there is the lying lizard Ilioha at the tree with the 
forbidden fruit of Kane (Maori Tane). In Fornander 's Hawaiian version, the first 
man (Haw. Kumu-honua, Maori Ko-honua) is formed out of earth. The Gods give 
him a garden in "the land that moved off," with pig, dog, mob of many sorts, and a 
tapu (taboo) tree. 43 

Comparison: The Eurasian dragon fight 










Indra Wo 


god of 

(new year 

Kadmos & 

dragon ahi/ 




the dragon 

azi slain, 

orochi slain, 


attacks dragon 





of the deep, kills 

Tiamat & 

and dismembers 


him each night 



gets drunk 


Sake is given 

by red beer 


St. George/ 
virgin saved] 

to dragon 
drunk and 

Hime saved 

42. Interpretation by E.W. Lai, pers. comm. (February 29, 2004). 

43. Cf. also the African version of the myth, with the Bassari in Togo (L. Frobenius 1924: 
75-76, see Campbell 1988: 1. 1: 14). 

Slaying the dragon across Eurasia 277 

5. Dragon and summer solstice 

The appearance of the virgin or princess to be rescued from the Dragon by the Hero 
opens a wider vista that cannot be pursued here at length and will be treated in a future 
paper. This mytheme is the link to two widespread sets of myths. 

(1) The myths of the slaying of the dragon e.g., Wo in Japanese myth, as de- 
tailed above. This is sometimes connected with Summer Solstice and with mar- 
rying a local virgin. Examples include that of Indra slaying the dragon ( Vedic 
India), the Thraetaona's slaying the Avestan three-headed dragon in summer, 
the BMAC/Nuristani dragon, as Naga, melting ice and snow in early summer 
Witzel 2004). The Japanese version involved the (temporary) marriage of the 
dragon slayer to a local virgin; it is a mirror image of the myth of the release of 
the Sun woman from the cave (Witzel 2005). 44 

(2) The myths of a (temporary) marriage with a divine nymph or "Weaver Woman" by 
a celestial or early human ancestor, Hunter or Cowherd. It takes place around the 
time of summer solstice. Examples include the Vedic Indian Pururavas and Urvasi 
(Rgveda 10.95; Witzel 1987), the Cowherd and the Weaver woman in China (July 7). 
Ultimately, it seems to go back to the foundational myth of the marriage of Sun and 
Moon, as is seen among the Kekchi Maya in Guatematala (Witzel 2005). 

One could stop here and regard the dragon stories as old myths that deal with 
the doing away of the monsters populating the newly emerged earth. They need 
to be overcome as to allow life on earth (frequently, even before humans emerge). 
However, as indicated, a closer look at these myths reveals that they are part of a 
grander scheme. We begin in Greece, where we find a myth that is close to what we 
can detect in Vedic India in connection with another primordial myth, the creation 
of light (see Witzel EJVS 12-1, 2005). In this Vedic myth, the dawn is symbolized by 
reddish cows that are released from a cave through the onslaught of the great heroic 
god Indra, or Tajikara in the Iwato myth of the Jpn. Kojiki. In early Greece, the cows 
of Geryoneus are rescued by Herakles. 

Geryoneus, a giant with three bodies, is the son of Chryasor, son of Gorgo 
Medusa. He owns a great heard of cows on the island of Erytheia "redland", which 
is situated in the extreme West. The great hero Herakles, son of the sky God Zeus, 
in his 10th work, travels there, puts up his two columns at Gibraltar/ Atlas, crosses 

44. Note that the northwestern land of Izumo, viewed from the early center in Yamato (Nara 
area east of Osaka), is an exact mirror image of Yamato: the land and its mythology (Kojiki 1. 
19-31) represents the dark, evening/night aspect of Japan (including the entrance to the neth- 
erworld). It is opposed to that of southeastern Yamato, where the Sun Goddess rules at Ise, 
and where her descendant, the emperor, entered from another "sunfacing" (himuka = Hyuga) 
country in Kyushu, and then resided at Asuka/Nara. 

278 Michael Witzel 

the Okeanos in a golden beaker of Apollo (which he otherwise uses every night to 
cross the ocean). Herakles kills the herdsmen, the giant Eurytion, the two-headed 
dog Orth(r)os, and finally, Geryoneus with the shot of an arrow. 45 He then drives 
back the cows to Greece (where Eurystheus offers them to Zeus' wife, Hera). 46 

Obviously, the cows in the west are the opposite of the Dawn cows in the Vala cave of 
the East (Witzel 2005). Just as in the Veda (Jaiminiya Brahmana 2. 440-2), the island 
of the cows is situated in the extreme west, inside the ocean (Okeanos, Ved. Rasa), or 
rather on the borderline of subterranean waters, where one can get only in the same 
way as the sun crosses the ocean of night (as in Egyptian myth). The subterranean situ- 
ation is also stressed by the appearance of the two-headed dog that reminds, in India, 
of the two "four-eyed" dogs of Yama, at the gate of the netherworld. Erytheia has long 
been understood as the "other world" (Jpn. Tokoyo), as the other world or the Savaiki 
(Hawai'i) paradise in Polynesian myth: both lie in the western direction. 47 

Therefore, the gaining of the cows by Herakles - who seems to be like a Greek 
Indra - looks like a summer solstice/ evening myth, a mirror image of the Vala/Iwato 
myth, that is a winter solstice/morning myth (Witzel EJVS 12-1, 2005). Why should 
Herakles bring back the cows in the evening or at summer solstice? They are likely to 
disappear below the western horizon "forever". The effect thus is the same as in the 
Vala/Iwato myth: restoring the cows/dawn to humankind. 

In Vedic myth, the slaying of the dragon is expressively correlated with the 
midday pressing of the sacred drink Soma and with Summer (hot season/later, = onset 
of monsoon). In earlier, Rgvedic times, when people speaking Old Indio-Aryan dia- 
lects were still residing in Afghanistan, Gandhara and the Panjab, this coincided with 
the snow melt in the high mountains of the Hindukush, Pamirs, and Himalaya and 
flooding of the rivers (Falk 1997). In the BMAC, Nuristani, and northwestern Indian 
myths, this is linked to the slaying of the great dragon/ snake/Naga (Witzel 2004, and 
forthc.) which cannot be explored here in detail. 

However, a brief look will be taken at the other myth that links the Sun and Moon 
with Summer solstice. It comes from ancient China, and is known in Japan under 
the name of Tanabata, where it was introduced during the early Heian period, at 

45. Cf. also the various myths of archers/bow shooter (Apollo, Marduk, etc.) and those in 
Avesta, Veda, China: 10 suns, nine shot down (note also the "10 little Indians" song?); further 
the Meso-American shooter myths: 3-4 suns are shot down, and the usurper, the fake sun (red 
Seven Macaw bird) falls from the tree, etc.; see Popol Vuh, II (Tedlock 1985: 90 sqq). 

46. Note also the apples of paradise (China, Japan, Polynesia, Greece, etc.); for the Maori myth, 
see Tregear 1891: 56 sqq, s.v. Hawaiki. 

47. The original blissful home of the Polynesians, *Savaiki > Savai, Hawaiki, Hawai'i, see 
Tregear 1891: 56 sqq. 

Slaying the dragon across Eurasia 279 

c. 800 A.D. The cow-herd (K'ien-niu, K'ien-niu-lang, Niu-Lang) and the weaver girl 
(Chih-nii), are first mentioned already in the song Ta-tung "great east" of the Shfjing/ 
Shih-king of the Zhou/Chou period (1027 BC.-771 BCE), and until c. 5th cent. BCE 
(cf. Yang & An 2005: 221). 

The cow herd lives in the asterism Eagle (Altair), and the weaver girl in Vega and 
Lyre (formed by a triangle of a larger and two smaller stars in Vega and Lyre). The 
weaver girl, the daughter of Heaven (Yu Yi), weaves heavenly clothes on the eastern 
bank of the heavenly river, the Milky Way. Heaven allows her to marry the cowherd. 
But as she neglects her weaving, she is banned to the eastern shore. (Alternatively, 
her mother uses her hair pin to scratch a dividing line, the Milky Way). Only once 
per year, in the night of the 7th of the seventh month she is allowed to visit her 
husband (see also King-Ch'u suei-shih-ki). This, she can do across a bridge (Feng-su 
ki), made by the wings of a magpie, a symbol of conjugal fidelity. 

As the Milky way is a revolving river, which becomes clear in the myth of the Taoist Jun 
Ping, a famous Taoist of the 1st c, who lived at Chengdu in Sichuan: a certain person 
entered the Milky Way on a float and returned after one year. 48 The weaver girl and the 
cowherd live on opposite banks of the Milky Way. It is part of the ocean or broad river 
at the end of the world and it flows around (the top of) heaven and around the earth 
in the course of a year (Witzel 1984); entering on it, one returns to earth in due course. 
The once-per-year crossing must thus carry a special meaning. 

Taking a closer look at the old Chinese situation, we notice for the old center of 
Chinese culture at Xian in Northern China, at 1000 BC: Altair (Alpha Aquilae) rises 
at 8:45 p.m, and sets at 9:41 a.m. on June 21, 1000 BC; while Vega rises at 5:42 p.m. 
and sets at 10:17 a.m. 49 Thus, Vega rises at sunset on the NE horizon, and Altair a few 

48. There was a man who lived on an island near the coast. Each year, in the 8th month, inevi- 
tably a float passed by. The man took the strange decision to observe from that float. ... He took 
hold there and departed. For about 10 days he observed the stars, the moon, the sun, and the 
whole firmament. Then, in the immeasurable darkness, he could no longer distinguish day and 
night. At the end often days (a decade), he suddenly arrived at a place resembling a village with 
walls. The dwellings appeared very austere. From far, he saw many weaver girls in the palace 
and also a man giving drink to cattle near a small island. The cowherd asked him, astonished: 
how did you come here? The man explained, and asked him about his origins. The cowherd told 
him: "when you will come to the district of Shu and visit Junping, you will learn it." He returned 
following the rhythm (of the stellar currant). In Shu, Junping told him: "on such and such a day, 
month, and year, a "visitor star" (a comet or shooting star) broke into the house of the cowherd." 
Making the calculation of the years and the months, the man noted that it was exactly the time 
when he had entered the Milky Way (on the float). (Bowu zhi, ch. 10). 

49. Vega is visible at 6h morning c. Nov. -August, or at 6h evening c. May-March. In evening 
Vega and Altair are visible ca. from June-Dec; in the morning c. from Dec-July. This corre- 
sponds well with the summer and winter solstices. 

280 Michael Witzel 

hours later. Both are separated by the two branches of the Milky Way. The "wings" of 
the magpie (Cygnus) are spread between the two, a little off northwards, all across the 
Milky Way. 

Weaver women are often identified with the sun: The Japanese sun goddess Ama- 
terasu is or has weaver girl(s); in Vedic India day (masc.) and night (fem.) are frequently 
described as weaving a cloth, in a complicated pattern of day and night, and Night herself 
is also described as cloth. Even in far off Guatemala, there is a Kekchi Maya myth which 
speaks of a hunter (of deer) and a weaver woman, a "king's" daughter, who is locked into 
a room and emerges from there just as Amaterasu or Usas from the cave (Witzel 2005). 

If the Chinese weaver girl represents the Sun goddess (dawn) at night, and as her 
representation, Vega, becomes visible in the evening around summer solstice, then the 
Cowherd 50 can well be the Chinese version of Indra/ Wo. Only, around Summer 
solstice, he does not break open the cave of the Sun goddess, but instead it is the sun 
goddess who comes to visit him. In all cultures involved she is the daughter of heaven: 
whether as Usas, the daughter of Dyaus (Vedic India), or as the Weaver woman, the 
daughter of Heaven (China), or the weaving daughter of a "king"(Kekchi Maya). 

The Kekchi of Guatemala 51 tell a long story about the courtship of Sun and Moon. 
The future moon, a weaver woman and daughter of a "king" was shut up in room, and 
released by a hunter (the sun) in form of a colibri. Both escaped through the key hole, 
and the woman was killed by volcano fire but then reborn. The tale revolves around 
the marriage of the Hunter and the Weaver girl. In the end, Hunter and Weaver girl are 
again separated as Sun and Moon. 


only India 

only Japan 

Kekchi Maya 

sun (dawn) married or 
has sexual relations 
with her brother 

(Weaver woman & 
cow herd in China) 

Hunter and Weaver 

marriage of 
Surya, RV10.86 

Usas attacked by 
brothers (and father 
as antelope) 

Amaterasu and Wo are 
siblings; Wo 
interferes with 
A.'s realm, attacks 
her (and servants) 
sexually; violent 
ascent to heaven 

[1st part of myth] 
[Hunter and Weaver 
girl probabaly are 
original siblings] 

Hunter approaches 
Weaver girl; unites 
with her, entering 
her room through 
key hole, at night, 
as colibri/human, 
woman gets 


50. Or the historically older, Meso-/Neolithic Kekchi figure of a deer hunter. 

51. Bierhorst 1990: 112. 


lying the dragon across Eurasia 281 



Indian myths 



Sun woman (dawn) is 
married to her brother, 
the violent god 
( Wo, Indra, 
cf. Cow Herd) who is 
assigned the lower 
world (or the moon) 

Sun woman (Surya, 
Urvasi) has many 
previous lovers 

Separated from S. 
by Milky Way 

Deities are generally 
jealous of any sexual 
relation with a 
demi-god or human 

"oldest love story": 

(Bringing of Fire 
from demi-gods) 

meeting on/near 
Milky Way 

regular yearly 
meeting (full moon 
in Summer?) 

Nymph Urvasi 
married to human 
descendant of gods, 

Urvasi is 

promiscuous, like 
Usas with poets 

separated one year; 
meeting again at lake, 
in company of nymphs 
in form of birds 

Urvasiss heavenly (sexual) 
partners succeed in finally 
separating the two by 

Pururavas roams 
around, madly 

in desperation succeeds 
to meet her once per 

Gandharva fire (children)/ 
by going to heaven (RV, 
10.95, St. 18); but 
around summer solstice, 
on Visuvat day of Gavam 
Ayana ("cows' walk") one 
rests on an island at the 
top of the sky/Milky Way 
near the North pole; cf. 
facilitating role of 

Pururavas and Urvasi meet 
once per year only (BSS) 

Weaver girl is [2nd part of myth] 

married to cow Weaver girl is 
herd "married" to deer 


(meets with Hunter 
in colibri form, at 

separated by 
Milky Way 

(separated by water/ 

she neglects her father is "jealous", 
weaving; Heaven separates the two by 
separates the two volcanic fire 

the two cannot 

meet once per year 

Hunter roams 
around for 2 weeks 
(half moon!) 

meets her after 
"rebirth" from 

on July 7, crossing (crossing of waters) 
the Milky Way via 
a ford (the wings of 

they unite for one 
night only 

they had united for 
one night only; now 
separate as Sun and 

282 Michael Witzel 

In other words, around summer solstice, the "cave opener" (Indra, Wo, 
Cowherd, Kekchi hunter, etc.) and the goddess Dawn/Sun (Usas, Amaterasu, Weaver 
woman, Kekchi weaver girl) meet for sexual contact, which they do not do at winter 
solstice (as is hinted at in India and Japan, Witzel 2005). 

In winter, the cave is magically opened through the performance of sexual rites 
outside the cave, in order to entice the dawn (Usas, Amaterasu) to come out. In summer, 
the opposite takes place. The female sun moves across the heavenly river (or water) to 
visit Indra (as Pururavas), the Cowherd, the Deer Hunter. 52 

The appearance of the myth of a temporary marriage between figures symbol- 
izing the sun and the moon, both in Meso-America as well as in Eurasia, point to 
a date of the myth well before the first immigration into the Americas, by (at least) 
15,000-11.5000 BCE. 

In sum, the myth is a Laurasian one of the Late Paleolithic period. 

It helps to shed light on the frame of mind of Stone Age humans. 53 In combination 
with other myths (Witzel 2004, 2005), the Laurasian mythology of the Late Paleolithic 
period is gradually emerging, and beyond that, the still earlier myths of anatomically 
modern humans, before they left Africa (Witzel 2005, 2006; van Binsbergen 2006; 
Berezkin 2002). 

In sum, the approach of comparative mythology to prehistory is another pillar, 
next to the study of language, paleontology/genetics and archeology, in our quest 
to understand early humans. Collaboration in this long-ranging, complicated quest 

52. Can this also be the situation of the Vedic Vrsakapi hymn RV 10.85 (Witzel 2005): 

India: Indra + Indrani :: Vrsakapi + Vrsakapayl 
Japan: Ta-jikara + Amaterasu :: Wo + Uzume. 

Note also the role of the magpie as bridge and the "eagle" (Aquila) asterism and cf. that of the 
Vedic ariklava messenger bird in the Jaiminiya Brahmana myth, and the role of the "gate" and 
the islands at this location of the Milky Way (Witzel 1984) . 

53. The appearance of the Rainbow Snake in Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia and South America 
seems to represent an earlier stage in the evolution of human mythology, that of the Gondwana 
type mythologies. However, its appearance in S. America, that seems to contradict the existence 
of the dragon motif in early Laurasian myth, may well be a remnant of earlier Gondwana traits 
(Witzel 2005, 2006), such as the motif of the origins of humans from trees, that is found in 
Africa, Australia, but also in Laurasian Taiwan/Japan and Iceland. Further, the history of South 
American mythologies still is, by and large, untraced (Bierhorst 1988: 14 sqq), similar to that 
of the spread of S. American language families (see W. Davey, MTX: 162-171). Note also the 
appearance of the Ogre in African mythology, van Binsbergen 2006: 336. 

Slaying the dragon across Eurasia 283 

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scholars. 54 


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The forefather of Indo- Pacific 

Jonathan Morris 
Sao Paulo, Brazil 

The work of the Italian linguists Alfredo Trombetti and Riccardo Gatti 
on their hypothesis of genetic relationship between the languages of the 
Andaman Islands, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Tasmania, and the 
Dravidian languages is discussed in detail. It is shown that Trombetti 
and Gatti had formulated a coherent precursor of the "Indo-Pacific" 
hypothesis (Greenberg 1971) by 1906. 

I would like to begin by expressing a few words of thanks to Hal Fleming for his generous 
support. In our current era of academic hyperspecialisation, creating and sustaining an 
open forum such as Mother Tongue over two decades is a rare achievement in itself 
but is made even rarer by Hal's enthusiasm for discussing and developing ideas, my 
work being a case in point, since he was the one who insisted on my developing a 
casual observation into an article on Trombetti's views on Indo-Pacific. Since only half- 
a-dozen of the 800-odd pages of his major work Glottologia (Trombetti 1923) deal 
with the subject (see Morris 2006), this is no easy task. These few pages nevertheless 
contain many references to another earlier work by Riccardo Gatti (1906-1909) with 
two introductory essays by Trombetti himself, showing that the latter figure was closely 
involved with the project. Gatti merely trawled through the existing vocabularies of the 
day (E.M. Currfor Australia, Ray for British New Guinea, Schmidt for German New 
Guinea and Portman for the Andaman Islands) looking for cognates, but found so 
many that only a small fraction can be presented here. I have thus chosen to concentrate 
on his Andamanese data, both on grounds of relative completeness and because it 
demonstrates that Trombetti's belief in an intimate genetic relationship between the 
languages of the Andaman Islands, Papua New Guinea and Australia/Tasmania and 
the Dravidian languages was solidly data driven. Trombetti's comments also show that 
he had formulated a coherent precursor of the "Indo-Pacific" hypothesis by 1906. 

In my review of Trombetti (Morris 2006), I attempted to dispel the popular caricature 
that he had fallen into disgrace by espousing a single origin of language, as well as to 
introduce a more nuanced portrayal of him as an outstandingly gifted natural linguist 
who rose from the most modest circumstances to hold a chair at the university of 
Bologna, receiving official recognition until his death in 1929.